Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Emergency Legislative Alert

Hello to My EGRPS PTA Legislative Committee and Friends--

Today is the day to set aside other tasks and take our task in hand.  We don't have time to put this in a blast.  We have to send out emails and call our friends.  The House Education Committee met yesterday.  See the summary below.  I testified in Lansing with two other mothers in order to protect our schools.  We were in the minority.  Although it appears that there are plenty of charter schools in Michigan, the Republicans in charge want to move forward in lifting the cap.  There is no plan to close existing schools.  The market forces are supposed to come into play with the less effective schools withering and dying or improving their services, like in the business world.  If you wonder if this is possible, please read Professor Morin's work out of Western Michigan University.  He studied Michigan schools (starting with a pro charter outlook) and found that traditional public schools are the poorer for charter schools opening.   Please read his research at the WMU website  

Lisa Lyons has been placed on the Education Committee because it is believed that she will vote yes for this bill.   We need to call her, write her and we need to do it today.  Please send an email out to your friends.  We don't have time for a blast.  If we don't influence her today, the cap will be blown and charters can move into high performing districts like ours with devastating effect.  Please read what the Washington Post has to say about Michigan'seducation reform at

Lucy Lafleur, Chair EGRPS PTA Legislative Committee

Phone: (517) 373-0846
Toll Free: (855) 596-6786 

Dear Ms. Lyons--

As the newly appointed member of the House Education Committee, you have the ability to vote against the Parent Empowerment bill which is before this committee.  I am certain that Michigan has enough charter schools with new charter schools opening every school year under the current law.  I am concerned about unlimited charter schools stretching the School Aid Fund too far and severely limiting the resources available for the existing public schools.  I am concerned that oversight for quality and fiscal oversight of  charters is to be provided by the charter issuer rather than locally elected officials like a public school board.  I am concerned that traditional schools will become poorer for charter school opening nearby.  this has been researched by a WMU professor  Please vote no on this bill.  School reform needs to be well thought out in order to not starve traditional public schools.

Does the Market theory work?

Here is some research on how public schools are harmed by charters.  This is due to decreases in resources and concentration of the neediest children.  This si a Western Michigan University professor with much of his research done in Michigan.  Local research on local schools.

Summary of House Hearing on November 29, 2011

Subject: Charter School Cap
House Republicans yesterday shuffled committee assignments in the wake of potential opposition on the House Education Committee to SB618, which would eliminate the cap on charter schools.  Removed from the committee was Holly Hughes, reportedly a no vote on the charter bill, and replaced by Lisa Posthumus Lyons, who is presumably a yes vote.  It would be good if those of you who are represented by Lyons to give her a call or send an email letting her know you oppose the bill.  Former Committee Chair Paul Scott was replaced by Rep. Jon Bumstead of Newaygo
Also yesterday, the committee introduced a substitute bill for SB618 that ostensibly takes care of some of the objections we've expressed to SB618.  It retains the language restricting community college charters to their service area, retains the 3 percent administration fee for charter oversight, adds some likely ineffective language to address the quality issue, and requires additional transparency on the part of charter schools.  While it retains the tax exempt status for charters, there are those who contend that will ultimately be removed, although the change in committee membership makes that effort more difficult. 
Originally, testimony was to be limted to yesterday's hearing and a vote was to be taken this morning.  It's unclear if that schedule remains intact, or if last night's highly localized snowstorm will affect committee hearings.  Below is the story from Gongwer.
Committee Shakeup As Charter School Vote Looms
As the House Education committee nears a vote on the charter school expansion bill, a major reshuffling of the committee membership has improved its chances of approval.

Tuesday afternoon, House Speaker Jase Bolger's office announced that Rep. Holly Hughes (R White River Township) had been replaced by Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto). Ms. Hughes has been noncommittal on the bill, which would end the charter school cap. Ms. Hughes did not respond to a message seeking comment.  "People can believe whatever they want, but we needed to make a multitude of changes for a multitude of reasons," Mr. Bolger's spokesperson Ari Adler said. "Once you start making changes to committee assignments, you end up with a domino effect."

Rep. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo) was added to the committee to replace recalled Rep. Paul Scott.

One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the move was not a punitive one against Ms. Hughes, but rather designed to protect her politically. Had Ms. Hughes, who represents a politically competitive district that previously was held by a Democrat, voted for the bill, the Michigan Education Association might have heavily targeted her for defeat in 2012. If Ms. Hughes had voted no, she might have lost support from key Republican constituencies and drawn a Republican primary challenge.

Several sources noted that had Mr. Bolger wanted to stack the deck to overwhelmingly report the bill, he could have replaced other members on the committee like Rep. Thomas Hooker (R-Byron Center) and Rep. Ken Yonker (R-Caledonia), who have wavered on charter school expansion, with sure yes votes.   Mr. Adler said many members were willing to work with Mr. Bolger to take on different assignments, either temporarily or permanently as needed, to help with the committee workload. Mr. Bolger announced several committee assignment changes Tuesday to replace the spots Mr. Scott had held, one of which went to Ms. Hughes on Health Policy.  "It's that kind of caucus cohesion that makes the House Republicans such a powerful force for reform," he said.

Word is House
Speaker Jase Bolgerreplaced Rep. Holly Hugheson the Education Committee to protect her from the politically difficult vote.
Gongwer News Service first reported that some House Republicans were having doubts on ending the cap on how many university-authorized charter schools can exist (See Gongwer Michigan Report, October 26, 2011). At the time, the Michigan Association of Public School Academies sent out an alert to its supporters asking them to urge a handful of House Republicans, including Ms. Hughes, to back the bill. Ms. Hughes declined to say where she stood on the issue, but several sources following the issue said she was a solid no.

During three hours of testimony Tuesday, the two sides of the charter school debate made many of their same arguments, but this time in front of Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills), the new interim chair of the House Education Committee, following the recall of Mr. Scott.  Several in the packed crowd bristled at Mr. McMillin's way of questioning those testifying, and he also had words with Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield Township) who didn't appreciate his answering the question she was asking a charter school advocate.

Following testimony from staff members at the Holly Academy, Ms. Brown asked if they still supported the bill, knowing that SB 618* caps the number of Schools of Excellence, of which Holly Academy is one.

Mr. McMillin interjected and said there will still be excellent schools, because competition and choice will make sure of that, and those that not doing well won't succeed.

"Mr. Chairman, I'm asking them the question if you don't mind," Ms. Brown said.  Mr. McMillin shot back, saying he was the chair, and asked her if this is how she was going to ask questions.

At the start of the hearing, the panel heard from Fern Katz, vice president of the Southfield Public Schools Board of Education. She opposed the bill for several reasons, including, she said, because it hurts public schools when students leave charters following the Friday count day that determines their annual funding. When those students come in, the school is not given the necessary funding from the state, she said.  Later, Melanie Laber, principal at FlexTech.High school in Brighton, testified about the success of their new charter school. She said they face the same funding issues as public schools when new students arrive later in the year.
Mr. McMillin said if students arrived later this school year, she would receive 10 percent of the foundation allowance for those students. She said they were fine with that.

"And you're not whining about the idea that you're only going to get 10 percent, I mean it's the kids we're focused on, right?" McMillin said, drawing several jeers from the audience.

Under the bill, the 150-school threshold would be eliminated, it would allow two or more authorizers to issue a charter school contract and it requires demonstrated academic achievement in educational goals for all student grade levels.

It also removes a requirement that labor agreements of a resident school district carry into the new charter school and requires 5 percent, instead of 15 percent, of school district electors to initiate a ballot petition to issue a new charter school.  The bill passed a divided Senate in October.

Two of Ms. Laber's students testified about how much they enjoyed their charter school experience. One was freshman Amelia Moorehouse, who is a competitive gymnast and spends most of her day practicing and attending meets around the Midwest. She attends the school two days a week, and communicates with her teachers daily, and takes online classes.

"We do high school differently," Ms. Laber said.

She said when they opened this year they began with about 25 students and now have about 160, with more coming every week.  Ms. Brown said it was great the school opened this year. It was one of 19 charter schools that to open this year.  "So there's a not a problem, because you opened a charter school," she said.

Ms. Laber said they have about 25 students to interview before the end of the year who would like to attend, prompting Ms. Brown to ask if they turn students away.  "If we don't think they are going to be successful, we talk to them about other options," Ms. Laber said.

Rep. Deb Shaughnessy (R-Charlotte) said if charters are rejecting students because they are full, then lifting the cap would eliminate that problem, she said.

Eugene Cain, chief school administrator at the El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Public School Academy in Lansing talked about the success they have had. He noted they take all students, have their own buses and have a special education program.  He said he supports the bill because he believes in choice.  "People of means have always had choice, I would rather see that extended," he said.

Rep. Rudy Hobbs (D-Lathrup Village) asked how this bill to allow more charter schools would do anything to replicate the success Mr. Cain has had at his school.  Mr. Cain said he hadn't read the entirety of the bill and Mr. Hobbs urged him to do so.

A group of parents from the Grand  Rapids area spoke in opposition to the bill, saying they feared it would take away the students with the means, and would leave the most vulnerable in the public schools.    They said they were not opposed to choice, but that this bill would allow for any charters to open, not just good charter schools.

The Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Townships Association also testified in opposition to a portion of the bill that allows for a property tax exemption to for-profit entities that lease their buildings to charter schools. The precedent that would set, as well as the financial loss due to this subsidy, concerned them, officials from the MML and MTA said.

The Department of Education indicated that if the bill became law and there was no limit on the number of charter schools, that the department would need additional staff member to handle all the new applications.

Several opponents of the bill pointed out that several charter schools have been shut down due to poor performance.   Mr. McMillin said there are quality issues with traditional public schools as well and none have ever been shut down.  "We are going to make sure that is dealt with," he said.

He said he plans to form a subcommittee to look into quality issues of both types of schools.  "I think it would be unfair just to address charters," Mr. McMillin said.

Another hearing on the bill is set for Wednesday morning when a vote is expected

Michigan's Embarrassing School Reform in the Washington Post

On my way to testify yesterday at the hearing of the House Education Committee, this was in the Washington Post.  Does it make you proud to live in a state with "embarrassing school reform"?  It embarrasses me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

All Day Kindergarten Letters to Senators and Representatives

Please read this article about All Day Kindergarten.  We need to rally on this soon.
 An elementary conundrum:Should kindergarten be full time? October 27, 2011 Matt Vande Bunte.

In the mean time, let's get the word out to parents about All Day Kindergarten.  These letters were penned by Legislative Committee member Anne Grobel and she wants to share them with everyone.  The first letter is about how many kindergarteners are not ready for all day school and the second one is regarding funding cuts.

86th district  (our current representative)
73rd district (our new representative following 2012 elections)
28th district

Dear Representative Lyons/Representative MacGregor--
Dear Senator Jansen--

It has come to my attention that the legislature will pursue mandatory all-day kindergarten in the next few months.  As a parent and a taxpayer, I would like to strongly advocate against taking this position.  I believe that forcing school districts to require all day kindergarten will be detrimental to both the districts and the children involved.  Many children at this tender age require a rest during the day and would find a full academic day too stressful.  For these children, the potential academic benefits of three or four additional hours of classroom instruction would be lost to fatigue and burnout.  It is unreasonable to expect school district employees to determine which children are ready for this program at 4 and which at 5 years old.  That decision is best left to parents and guardians. At present there are many existing programs to provide all day care for children who may require that outside the home.  My experience is that many children find a full day rigorous and exhausting in the early months of first grade, so to expect that from all Kindergartners is unreasonable.  All day kindergarten would provide a lot of children  with a stressful and unpleasant beginning to their academic careers.

Best Regards From Your Constituent,

Dear Representative Lyons/Representative MacGregor--
Dear Senator Jansen--

All Day Kindergarten strips funding for high school programs while putting more strain on early elementary education budgets.  While I understand the need to most efficiently use the diminished tax revenues in Michigan, dissecting school budgets and forcing kindergarten programs to be funded only for the time each child is present in the building is an unreasonable cost cutting measure.  The legislative intent of Proposal A was to leave allocation of these per pupil monies under local control.  It is more expensive to educate a high school student than a kindergartner, and these students have very different needs.  I believe the locally elected school boards, local district administrators and local voters are in the best position to properly and most effectively determine how to distribute these funds among the buildings and staff and to best educate all of the children in their particular district.  

Please continue to allow local control on the issue of whether a child attends half-day or all day kindergarten.  Let's give these future taxpayer and members of our community the best chance to get a solid education and become productive members of our communities.

Best Regards from Your Constituent,

Testifying in Lansing and How is Michigan's Economy Really Doing?

New hearings in Lansing in front of the Michigan House Education Committee on Tuesday, November 29, 2011 at 10am.  Parents are welcome.  Let me know if you are interested in going.

While considering attending this hearing, peruse Rick Haglund's essay on the improvement of Michigan's economy as reported by UofM economists.  Our recovery is strong this year (before the business tax cut) and will slowly improve over the next two years due to car manufacturing.  The economists have a hard time speculating whether the economy will improve more with the tax cut and they warn that the tax cut could cause a decline in infrastructure and education which will not attract outsiders (both workers and industries) to Michigan.

Thank a Teacher

News Gleaned from the Annual Test of 15 year olds

Let's fix public education where it is broken.  Let's support parents in their performance at home.  We keep hearing about this international test of fifteen-year-old kids.  Read about a study of the parents of the children who do well.  How can we replicate what works?  Lucy

Friday, November 18, 2011

State ed system head leading community forums

State ed system head leading community forums

[Posted by The Associated Press November 17, 2011, 9:13 PM]
The head of Michigan's new system for failing schools plans to hold forums across the state to hear from parents and community members as the district prepares to launch.
Education Achievement System Chancellor John Covington is attending two community forums in Detroit Thursday with Detroit Parent Network Executive Director Sharlonda Buckman.
System spokesman Bob Berg says about 10 other forums are planned statewide, with a schedule being developed during next several days.
The system will assume operation of the state's lowest 5 percent of performing schools and will begin operating its first schools in September.
Covington is the ex-schools chief in Kansas City, Mo. He says the new Michigan district eventually will serve more than 100,000 students.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Letter to House Rep Lyons re Parent Empowerment 

Hello Representative Lyons;
I am writing to you today to tell you to vote no on the Parent Empowerment package of bills.  While I am supportive of expanding the options for parents whose children are in failing schools, I am concerned about good school districts competing with too many schools.  Michigan cannot afford such an expansion of schools!  Also, the legislation does not address the quality of education in these new schools.  We demand quality regulation and fiscal responsibility such as is followed by successful traditional school districts in Michigan.  Let's put more thought into reinventing education in Michigan, including looking to home grown success!

MEAP Successes

Here are some articles on MEAP successes, including the best 60 districts in Michigan based on this test.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Latest EGRPS PTA Leg. Committee Update

Although House Education Committee and Grand Blanc House Representative Scott was recalled, we must still advocate for changes and increased regulation in the package of bills called Parent Empowerment Act which passed the Senate in October and is waiting for review in the Michigan House.  Here is the update:

A critical vote coming up in the house would blow the cap on charter schools as well as allow unfettered expansion of cyber schools.  These changes come under the Parental Empowerment Education Package, a set of bills introduced in September and passed in the Senate in October.  The House is planning on moving just as fast!  While we are supportive of expanding the options for parents whose children are in failing schools, we are concerned about good school districts competing with too many schools.  Michigan cannot afford such an expansion of schools!  Also, the legislation does not address the quality of education in these new schools.  We demand quality regulation and fiscal responsibility such as is followed by successful traditional school districts in Michigan.  Let's put more thought into reinventing education in Michigan, including looking to home grown success!  For more information, please check www.egrpseducationadvocates.blogspot 
Hello Representative Lyons;
I am writing to you today to tell you to vote no on the Parent Empowerment package of bills.  While I am supportive of expanding the options for parents whose children are in failing schools, I am concerned about good school districts competing with too many schools.  Michigan cannot afford such an expansion of schools!  Also, the legislation does not address the quality of education in these new schools.  We demand quality regulation and fiscal responsibility such as is followed by successful traditional school districts in Michigan.  Let's put more thought into reinventing education in Michigan, including looking to home grown success!

All Day Kindergarten Considerations

All Day Kindergarten continues to be a concern.  When Representative Lisa Lyons met with EGRPS Administration and School Board members last week, she stated that the change is very likely to happen in the next budget cycle.  Not only will this change in state policy have a severe economic impact on our district, but the district also needs time to develop curriculum as well as hire staff trained in early childhood education.  This is a multiple step process that takes time.    We are also very concerned about the economic impact on other districts close by.  Lucy

  • Please remember that schools, such as those in GRPS, that currently have All Day Kindergarten programs are utilizing federal money for the other half of the day.  They will lose that federal money under the new state law.  All Day Kindergarten will impact all schools in Michigan that offer Kindergarten whether they are expanding to meet the requirement or they are losing federal dollars.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Grand Rapids Public Schools are doing more with less

For all the talk about Michigan's urban public schools failing to be efficient, the fact is, GRPS has managed to balance its budget despite an almost 50% decrease in state aid over the last few years.  When our legislators perpetuate a perception of public schools as wasteful and poor stewards of resources -- and use that myth as a way to justify draconian budget cuts -- we need to set the record straight.  In this video of a recent Rapid Growth event, learn about what GRPS has been doing and what its plans are for the future.

Advocacy Alert From PTA Michigan

November 1, 2011
Michigan PTA Members:
The Michigan Senate recently passed Senate Bill 619, allowing an unlimited number of cyber-schools in Michigan.  This bill is now before the Michigan House Committee on Education. Click here for the full text of SB 619 or copy and paste the link into your browser bar:
Senate Bill 618 – to remove the cap on all charter schools in the state – was taken up by the House Education Committee last week.  The full text of SB 618 can be found here  or copy and paste the link into your browser:
You are an advocate for the children in our state and nation.  It is important for you to let your Michigan Representative know that you expect the Legislature to ensure that every child in Michigan receives a quality education.  As the Michigan Legislature makes changes to public education, it is imperative that our students have qualified educators and proper oversight.  All educational opportunities available must help students reach their full potential.
Ask your legislator: 
  • Who oversees cyber-schools? Are they required to demonstrate experience and success in virtual education?
  • Who determines the curriculum and instructional materials for cyber schools?  Are they required to follow the Michigan Curriculum Framework?
  • What assessments are done to evaluate the students’ progress?  Are students in allpublic schools – traditional, charter, and cyber - required to take the MEAP and the Michigan Merit Exam? 
  • How do cyber schools ensure that students are doing their own work?
  • Are all public schools required to adopt the Common Core State Standards? 
  • What research have you (the legislator) reviewed in regards to charter schools and cyber schools?
  • If a student leaves a virtual school, and returns to a brick and mortar school, does the funding follow them?
Call your Michigan Representative today; let him or her know that they must look out for the children of Michigan – their future depends on it! Click here to find your representative's contact information .
  Thank you for speaking up for children,
  Michigan PTA Committee for Children’s Advocacy